Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art at the Crossroads: The Contested Position of Indigenous Arts in Ghana's Post-Colonial Education Systems

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Art at the Crossroads: The Contested Position of Indigenous Arts in Ghana's Post-Colonial Education Systems

Article excerpt

The traditional arts of Ghana are highly recognizable as examples of African artistic production. People who do not know the names of items stich as Kente cloth and the Akua'ba figure (Figure 1) are able to identify them as African art. These art forms have become parts of the familiar visual vernacular that serve to identify Africa in general and Ghana in particular. They include specific Ghanaian symbols, motifs, and images of certain drums, textile patterns, created in carved, cast, or painted formats. These images are visual makers of cultural identity and in this case, function as trademarks for the nation.

In Ghana, visual references to the indigenous arts are everywhere, in clothing, billboards, corporate advertising, tourist items, and myriad forms of popular visual culture, much of which is produced to promote consumption. One also sees representations of Ghana's native arts in lavish presentations of cultural pageantry performed regularly to mark special occasions, to honor visitors, and to display Ghana's rich cultural heritage. Given the high visibility and obvious importance of Ghana's traditional arts, one might expect to find a strong presence of these art forms in school curricula and teacher training programs. However, this is not the case. A disconnection exists between the indigenous arts used to project Ghana's national image and promote commerce and their representation to young people in educational terms. In the formal education sector, the indigenous arts do not enjoy a place proportionate in size to that which they represent in the public sphere of popular visual culture as trademark art. Why is this so?

Today the state of art education in Ghana reflects the country's circuitous historical development before, during, and since colonialism. As such, it reveals multifocal influences that continue to generate tensions around teaching indigenous arts in schools. One such focus is that of the British and missionary educational systems that historically excluded the teaching of indigenous arts before and during colonialism. Another is the post-independence focus of Ghanaian nationalism and its related priority of protecting Ghana's unique cultural heritage. In addition to these two foci, social attitudes about income generation are influenced by the commodification in recent decades of African cultural arts resulting from the growth of international tourism and export markets. These contradictory developments, combined with increased urbanization of the populace over time, have had an impact on the shaping of educational policy and practice in Ghana.

Pre-colonial Traditions and Post-colonial Tensions

Indigenous and school education systems in Ghana evolved along parallel paths with separate goals. Edusei (1991), a Ghanaian scholar of art education history, explains the contrasting foci of the two systems. These days reading, writing, mathematics and other subjects including art are taught in Ghana's schools as separate, discrete subjects as they are in Western schools. This model is characterized by an emphasis on independence, competitiveness, and examination results. In contrast, indigenous education in Ghana developed as a holistic approach aimed at preparing learners for membership in society in ways that integrated rather than separated skills, emphasizing relationships and inter-dependence of individuals to the whole. Indigenous education developed as a system of teaching and learning that served the needs of a non-literate people. This system predates contact with European missionaries and colonial rule, and is still present in parts of the country where it operates instead of, or alongside conventional school education.

Eclusei (1991) states that the purpose of indigenous education was the transmission of accumulated wisdom, knowledge, values, beliefs, and attitudes of the society to its young, a necessary process tor maintenance and development of the culture. For this reason, indigenous education remains an important part of Ghanaian life despite the popularity of Westernstyled school education. …

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